How to Prepare for a Day at Walt Disney World

With SO MUCH information out there and Disney’s addition of the FastPass+ process in recent years, the whole planning part of any Disney trip can be a little overwhelming even if you’re only there for a day.  We had a family vacation planned to Orlando in December of 2018 and decided to do one day in Walt Disney World so the whole family could experience the magic of Disney with our son.

Below are our tips for preparing in advance to ensure you can make the most of one day in a Disney theme park, keeping in mind that so much of Disney has been made electronic like the rest of the world. While it takes a bit of time to get up to speed, your day at the parks will go a lot smoother if you (or at least one person in your group) spend a little time to familiarize yourself with the park and FastPass+ process in advance. Note that while we only had a day at the parks on this most recent trip, these are good steps to take even if you’re spending a week at Walt Disney World.

1. Choose the Best Park for Your Family

This is an obvious but important one if you only have limited time in Walt Disney World. Since our family had all been to Disney a countless number of times, we decided to focus this trip entirely around our son and pick the park that was best for him.  It was between Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom for us and our animal-loving son, but we ultimately chose Magic Kingdom because of the number of rides he could do under 32″. If you have a Toy Story obsessed kid, Disney’s Hollywood Studios may be best for your family. Or if your kids are interested in learning all about the world and innovations, Epcot may be be the most interesting for them. Note: We’ve also done park hoppers in the past for a one day Disney visit pre-kid, however, I don’t recommend them if you’re visiting with younger kids unless you have a chance to break or nap during the day and you know they can make it without getting overtired. There’s so much to do at each park that you will quickly fill the day enjoying just one. Save your money!  But if you’re ready to brave a full day with two parks, by all means, go for it.  You know your family (or friends) best!  

2. Use FastPass+ and Make Ride Selections in Advance

If you only have one takeaway from this post, it’s that FastPass+ will actually make the day-of park experience easier if you take a little time to familiarize yourself with it in advance.  This is especially true if you’re traveling with little ones and want to be strategic about which lines you’re willing to wait in and which ones you want to avoid.  (Because waiting in a 90 minute line is bad enough by yourself, let alone with a grumpy toddler.) To start looking at FastPass+ options in advance of your day at the park, be sure to register on My Disney Experience to create an account.

So how does Fast Pass work?  The process has changed over the years, but here’s the rundown:

  • Each person is allotted 3 Fast Pass ride selections that are included with the purchase of their ticket. (Children under 3 can just go with family members as long as they meet the height requirements; they don’t need to make FastPass+ selections if they’re not old enough to need a ticket.)  One additional FastPass+ selection can be made on the day you’re in the park, either at a ride kiosk or on the mobile app.
  • FastPass+ selections can be made in advance (up to 60 days if you’re staying in a Walt Disney World property and up to 30 days if you’re not) so it’s recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance of your visit. (Note: You can still make FastPass+ selections online even if you opt to get your tickets at Will Call versus having them sent to you.) OR if you want to wing it, you can make FastPass selections the day of your visit, either on the mobile app or the kiosks located throughout the park. Just be aware that availability for specific rides and times will be much more limited if you wait.
  • Each FastPass+ selection gives you an hour window to visit the ride, and there’s a separate FastPass+ entrance that requires you to swipe your card/ticket or band when you get to the line. 
  • Rides must be chosen specifically for the day you’re planning to go, but ride selections can be changed at any time prior to your scheduled FastPass+ selection arrival window.
  • For tons more information on FastPass+, visit the Disney Q&A here

Additional Tips to make the most of your FastPass Usage:

  • Do a little research to get a feel for the lines at certain times and use FastPasses for the rides or times with the longest lines. (Touring Plans is great for this if you’re curious.)
  • Consider making a rough outline of which areas of the park you want to visit in what order (even if it’s just in your head.) This will help to make sure you can hit your FastPass selections within the window of time allotted and don’t need to run across the other side of the park to do that.
  • If you have any must do rides/ character visits that tend to get longer lines (i.e. Mickey Mouse Meet & Greet, Peter Pan, Seven Dwarf’s mine train) make your FastPass+ selections for those as soon as possible.  
  • If you’re going as a large group and want to try to do rides together, have one person manage the FastPass and planning and link the other tickets together so you can maximize your time and FastPass usage.  Tip:  Once you’ve linked your tickets under Disney Go/ My Disney Experience, other family members can be added as they buy their tickets, simply by calling WDW and providing the name and email address of the primary person.  We were able to have our entire party added to our same FastPass selections and make adjustments later.

3. Preview the Rides Available Before Your Day in Walt Disney World

This will help with your theme park and FastPass+ selection. And with all the changes Disney is constantly making to its theme parks, there’s likely to be something new even if you’ve been to Walt Disney World many times before. Disney’s website has a ton of detailed information on every ride if you search by theme park/ interest under Attractions, and the guide maps in particular are great to check which rides are FastPass+ eligible and which ones have a minimum height requirement. If you’re telling your kids about the Disney trip in advance, showing or telling them about the rides online is also a great way to get them excited for the day. Below are links to the guide maps for each Walt Disney World theme park:

4. Make Reservations for Sit-Down Restaurants in Advance

Each of the Disney World theme parks offers sit-down restaurants, several of which have character dining experiences. Disney now makes dining reservations available 180-days in advance; something I didn’t realize until I attempted unsuccessfully to make a character dining reservation a few months prior to our visit. So whether you’re looking to dine at the parks or stop for a special meal at one of the surrounding Disney resorts, be sure to book in advance if this is high on your list. That said, if you only have one day at the parks, I wouldn’t recommend eating more than one sit-down meal since it will take a big chunk of your time. (Note: As an alternative to an on-site Disney character dining experience, we had an amazing character breakfast at the nearby Hilton Buena Vista Palace Disney Springs during our visit, pictured here.)

5. Download the DisneyGo App

The DisneyGo App makes your entire experience easier, both before and during your time at the parks. With the App, you can:

  • Manage your FastPass+ selections
  • View real-time lines
  • Check how tall your child needs to be to go on a certain ride
  • Access a map of the park
  • Find the closest bathroom or eatery
  • Manage restaurant reservations and experiences (both within and outside of the parks)
  • Pre-order food to avoid waiting in lines

6. Try to Plan Your Visit When the Crowds are Low

While Disney never really has a slow day, the best way to experience it if you have limited time is to aim for a less crowded day. There’s obviously no crystal ball to tell you this, but with Disney’s new daily priced ticket purchasing system, one way evaluate potential crowds is to look for the lower priced tickets (lower demand = lower price!) Weekdays are ideal if your schedule allows, since Saturdays in general tend to be the busiest days any time of year. We lucked out with relatively short lines on a Friday in early December at the start of the holiday season. We later learned that when there are special events that cause the parks to be closed early (in this case it was Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom) there are usually lower crowds since many people don’t want to spend the money on a full day ticket if they’re getting kicked out early.

7. Check Park Hours in Advance

While Disney World theme park hours generally stay the same, they vary slightly depending on the time of year and any events going on that day. For the most up to date information, go directly to Disney’s website here to check the times for the day you’re visiting. This is also important if there’s a specific parade or night show you want to see, since times for those can vary and some shows may be canceled altogether depending on scheduled events.

8. Plan to Arrive at the Park Early

Many people don’t realize that the parks actually open to the public before the rides start operating.  At Magic Kingdom, Main Street opens around 8:00am on days that the rights start at 9:00am (although sometimes turnstiles will be opened before then.)  Getting there early means parking is a breeze, you can see the park’s opening ceremony and take some great pictures before the crowds get higher. Our son loved the show and fireworks from Mickey and friends, and it was a good way to get us all excited for the day. While Magic Kingdom’s opening ceremony is supposed to the best, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios also do opening ceremonies.   Aside from the magic of the opening ceremony, lines also tend to be shorter in the morning after the parks first open.

What are some go-to tips you have for planning a day at the Walt Disney World Theme Parks? Please share in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “How to Prepare for a Day at Walt Disney World

  1. Oh boy …. Times have changed at Disney. My children are 28/30 so it’s been a long time since I’ve taken little ones. Back then it was fun to just “wing it” so to speak and that meant the only thing planned was plane tickets and accommodations of course. Although we’ve always had family in Orlando, we still stayed at the Disney resorts a few times. Today , that is a chunk of change ! Now that I have a grand baby, I appreciate knowing all that I can do to prepare a head for our Disney adventure. I’ve prepared a folder of the Toddling traveler as I am a busy GiGi and don’t have the time to research myself. I’m looking forward to the next adventure.

    1. So true! While you can definitely still wing it, it’s a different experience if you do! I can see why so many people get Disney Vacation planners these days when they’re staying onsite and making an entire vacation out of it. And thanks for the kind words, glad to help : )

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